Oh Memphis where to begin. Well I shall start at the beginning I suppose. Memphis opened on Broadway in 2010 and received the Tony Award for Best Musical that year. Naturally I saw it for the first time shortly after that awards show had aired. I was already intrigued by the story of this city in the 1950’s, the music, and of course at the center our two main characters, one white, one black as they fall in love during this era. Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan wrote the music and lyrics and as a long time fan of that band I insistently knew it would be incredible. The music in a musical after all is central. It is what keeps you interested, tells the story, and what you should be feeling. My heart starts racing immediately when I close my eyes and replay the music in my head of Memphis. It is that intense and so is the show.
I have seen many, many shows more than once. It is probably easier to count the plays I have only seen once; they would probably fit on one hand. The reason for that is when I connect with a play, whether it’s the acting, story, or music, I crave it. I have to go back. Usually I want to share it with someone else. When I see all three qualities it is rare and then I know I am in the presence of greatness. I feel like I write more positive reviews lately but believe me I have seen shows I have hated. I am honest about it and I am disappointed. Theater is the freshest and rawest sense of performance. When it is done right there is a kind of spiritual exchange between the actors and the audience. It is a gift. A misconception is that you have to have the lead in order to be the star. Not true. Memphis is great example of this. Here not only are the leader characters utterly amazing but the entire ensemble cast gives me chills. Without them I don’t think this show would have left production. It is all the pieces of the puzzle that fit together that creates this magic.
First off we have to talk about Montego Glover. She is the lead actress, portraying Felicia Farrell. She has the most amazing singing voice and can belt out the longest and highest of all notes. When she opens those pipes of hers watch out. I never tire of hearing her sing and I am amazed every time I do. Even on the soundtrack she sounds like she is sitting next to you. I do not have any idea how she has managed this role for over two years, eight nights a week, without hardly ever leaving the stage but when she up there you can see the light her eyes and the fun she is having. It is an awe inspiring experience. I cannot wait to see what she does next.
When I saw the show in 2010 there was another actor playing the male leading role of D.J. Huey Calhoun. But the actor currently starring in this role is actually the reason I came back. His name is Adam Pascal and for anyone who has ever seen “RENT” that name will sound familiar. He originated the role of Roger and has been a legend among us fans ever since. I have followed his career since that role and have seen him in Aida and even when he came to perform his own album at my college, Adelphi University some years ago. So when I heard he was back on Broadway in a play I already loved I knew I had to see him in this role. When I heard that Memphis was closing I was shocked, but that combined with Adam gave me the push I needed to book my tickets even faster.
But before we go any further with the details of this play, I first need to talk about the first Huey Calhoun, Mr. Chad Kimball. I always believe in giving credit where credit is due and let me tell you the first time I saw this show Chad was amazing. He played Huey until late last year when an injury caused him to leave the show. That is when Adam took the part over. However, Chad was amazing in his own right. He made Huey come alive and without his charm, playfulness, and talent this play would have never come this far. His is the voice I hear in my head as Huey since he is the voice recorded on the soundtrack and it is well deserved. He was also a delight to meet afterward, gracious and kind. I know he will be back on Broadway and I will be there to meet him again.
When Adam first was announced as the next Huey I have to admit that as much as I adore him I was nervous. Nervous not because of his talent or capability but because right off the bat I couldn’t picture him in the role. In my mind’s eye the original Huey was younger and I was not sure Adam’s nature was right for the part. Despite these reservations I was still eager to see what he would bring to the performance and love hearing his voice live.
On the night of this performance, the curtain lifted, the characters emerged, and the orchestra swelled, it was only about four notes in when I was reassured that Adam Pascal was the musical theater professional I had come to know and love. His voice blew the house away and I was instantly proud, thinking to myself: that’s my boy! After that the rest fell into place. Felicia and Huey were back in my life again.
Usually when I repeat a show it is fairly close to my first appearance. But this might be my longest separation, two years. It is funny how you remember certain parts and loving a story yet block out things. I knew I would love it again but still was watching intently just as I did my first time. I still gasped as the parts that hold you on the edge of your seat. I still cried at the parts that moved me to tears. And I still wanted to get up and dance to the songs I loved. The only difference now was I knew the lyrics and had to make sure I sang the songs in my head and not out loud so not as to embarrass my friends and myself. Let me tell you that was a challenge. I never silently screamed so hard.
One of my favorite actors in this show is James Monroe Iglehart who portrays a character named Bobby. I am amazed by how he carries himself non-stop on the stage. He is a triple threat for sure with his singing, dancing, and acting abilities. I am definitely anxious to see what he will be in next because I know I will be there with bells on.
Actually the entire ensemble cast is incredibly talented, as they would have to be for this show to take flight. Just as important as the cast is the music. It is like a character in the play. My favorite songs in this show I can sing right off the top of my head. But my favorite of all time is the one this blog is named for, “The Music of My Soul”. It is the central theme of this play and the most powerful song, I think, in the show. It is beautiful and I could never tire of it. As soon as I sat down this last time to see “Memphis” it automatically popped into my head. That’s why I love this show; it feeds “The Music to My Soul” much the same way the theater does.
This play shares another special quality with “RENT” besides Adam Pascal. Both plays were filmed for the movies. However “Memphis” is the only play to have ever been shown while it was still on Broadway and become available for purchase. So if you can’t make it to the theater before it closes you will still get to experience this wonderful show. I wish they did this for all plays, especially ones that close. I always wish I could rewind the experience and for those who can’t get to N.Y.C. or a touring production they wouldn’t get to miss out.
This performance completed the play section of my 2012 to-do list (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2012_04_01_archive.html),which makes me want to do a happy dance. The only downside to this night was that I did not get to see Adam Pascal afterwards. I was disappointed to say the least but I was more shocked than anything. I know from past experiences that he is kind to his fans and appreciative so I am assuming this was for a good reason. Since he is a main reason for my return visit I was initially on fire but when I stopped to think about it and compare to others who have avoided stage doors there was a big difference. Adam Pascal is not a stuffy celebrity doing theater for publicity for a six-week run and selling over priced tickets. I would mention names here but I don’t want to give those actors, I have one in mind, more attention then they deserve (you can check my recent blogs for more info). I have also met Adam before at other stage doors, once even with a severely broken arm and hand, and he spent over an hour trying to accommodate everyone. Adam Pascal is not like that so I am giving him a pass this one time because after all no one works with Jonathan Larson on “RENT” and doesn’t learn to appreciate life and love.
Everyone else in this cast was wonderful when they came out, just as when I was there last time, including Ms. Montego Glover even though she could barely speak because of her vocal strain from the show. And of course, “my friend” James was too adorable.
In 2010, my seat was in row b on the left side of the orchestra. During the emotional final number, which is my favorite part of the show, I had an amazing vantage point. I could look up and see the actors sweating, singing, celebrating their victory of another successful show. Then I turned and could see the entire packed theater up to the top of the balcony on their feet clapping and cheering for them. It was a crazy sight. I was overwhelmed with emotion just imagining what that would feel like to be on stage after another night of hard work to see an audience react to you like that. I always think its magic the way actors make it look like they are doing a play for the first time. Does that applause always feel like the first time? I can’t imagine that gets old.
It is a shame this show is closing. But I have learned an important lesson, never let anyone “Steal Your Rock N’ Roll”.
Hurry up and don’t miss your chance to see “Memphis” on Broadway. This gem is closing August 5th!
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